Northern California's Other
Sonoma. County boasts nearly 200
visitor-friendly wineries, including a one-man,
award-winning kosher wine operation.
BY SUSAN R. POLLACK
Winchell, an Orthodox
Jew, set out to create a
"Garden of Eden" in
Sonoma County, where
tidy vineyards thrive in a
landscape shaped by
mountains, rivers, red-
woods and the ever-dra-
matic Pacific coast.
Today, his Gan Eden
winery, a one-man operation in the
pastoral community of Sebastopol,
ranks as California's second largest
producer of kosher wine, turning out
15,000 cases per year.
Bold and robust, Winchell's eight
hand-crafted wines, including distinc-
tive chardonnays, cabernet sauvignons
and a trademark black muscat, win
dozens of awards annually — but they
may not be familiar to consumers.
"Gan Eden wines are quirky and
individualistic in terms of styling,"
says the self-described "eccentric wine-
maker," a 45-year-old father of six.
"They've become more of a cult wine
than mass-appeal (product) — people
either love them or hate them. It
pleases me that people feel passionate
about my wines."
Some are available locally at
Cloverleaf Market in Southfield, more
at Chicago's Hungarian Kosher
Market, and an even greater selection
at the no-nonsense little winery in an
apple orchard 45 miles north of San
Francisco where the ever-busy
Winchell says he'll do his best to greet
serious tasters who call ahead.
Stop by almost any of Sonoma
County's nearly 200 wineries and
chances are you'll get an up-close and
personal encounter with the winemak-
er — or, almost certainly with the
wines. Whether giants like Kendall-
Jackson Wine Center, where a sensory
garden helps explain food and wine
pairings, or small, one-man operations
like Gan Eden, Sonoma's visitor-
friendly wineries are eager to share
sips, tips and stories about their wines.
Tasting rooms run the gamut from a
European-inspired castle and chateaus
to Kunde Estate. Winery's cool, can-
dlelit caves and Mill Creek's cozy red-
wood lodge warmed by a wood stove.
As the acknowledged birthplace of
the California wine industry, dating
back to the early 1800s, the county's
12 appellations, or distinct geographi-
cal regions, read like a who's who of
labels found at your local upscale wine
shop: Alexander Valley, Russian River,
Chalk Hill, Dry Creek Valley and
Carneros, just to name-drop a few.
But the Sonoma County experience
extends beyond the vineyards. Think
pampering spas, challenging golf
courses, romantic inns, kayaking
adventures and a vintage blend of cul-
tural, historic and family-friendly
attractions — plus creative dining
spots, shops and art galleries — all
sprinkled across a county the size of
Rhode Island. Popping into farm mar-
kets for fresh fruits, gourmet herbs
and other picnic-basket bounty, such
as artisan-made breads, olive oils and
cheeses, enhances the touring fun.
Though more spread out than Napa
Valley, its higher-profile neighbor,
Sonoma generally offers a more inti-
mate, less-crowded and somewhat
more affordable vacation experience.
WINE COUNTRY on page 16